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Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Snow-Job, Realism And Perception

Although this will hopefully be a philosophical essay, I will begin with some remarks on punctuation. Quotation marks serve what are taught and thought to be dual and separate functions. They are often used to introduce an illegitimate concept --one that the reader is asked to accept for the moment. Quote marks also signify something said or written and reproduced on good authority. For the wily student, these functions are neither dual nor separate.

When I was a schoolboy I often used this interpretation in essays. I would write a sentence in quotes, in favor of my argument, and add "Hume" after it. No teacher ever questioned it. Any absurdity would do --observe: "Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of passion." --Hume. Let us proceed.

In physics and poetry we observe the world strictly through its effects on us. We abandon naive realism. Naive realism is things are what they seem to be --a belief upon which we rely for survival. So it must be connected more securely to passion, to instinct, than to thought and reason (upon which we also rely for survival). Perception is tricky business.

Since naive realism leads to all art and science, which in turn fundamentally dispute it, it can be considered both true and false --or neither. It is simply necessary. It can also lead to bad things --abusive political and economic systems and some rather nasty religions-- so it definitely wants some ethical guidance. It's a stage we go through, a climacteric from which we emerge as blustering bullies and cowering idiots or as enlightened reasoners. It's really a toss-up.

This brings us to chance. Chance alone is not a reliable mechanism for personal advancement. Only in the presence of thought does it approach biased probability-- but without it there is no proof that thought furnishes any special advantage. From randomness, what chance furnishes, we compose for ourselves new possibilities of existence --or we lapse into a succession of irritable mental gestures induced by our senses.

We must ask who or what is qualified to guide us into rational thought. Because any recommendation amounts to presumption, I suspect this agent already exists but has somehow got suppressed in us --perhaps by anxiety expressed as original sin. It is a stage of development confounded in fear. There should be enough joy-oriented religions, benevolent governments, stable economies and life-affirming philosophies to shed light on this bugaboo and evaporate it, but it persists.

Personally, I blame Hume.


  1. Thanks! My first response: Everything contains its opposite: that's the principle of paradox, of the Tao. What would Hume say about that? What do -you- say? Stimulating piece, Geo. Now, where do we go, Geo., where do we go?


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